This is Liz Solomon, the Founder and CEO of King David Tacos, a business that specializes in grab-n-go breakfast tacos that are “born and bred in Austin but made for NYC”. Like her tacos, Liz was born and raised in Austin, Texas but moved to New York to pursue a career in advertising. However, after working for 10 years in the same industry, she became disenchanted with her career path. She loved her work building brands but she knew from an early point that this wasn’t the industry she wanted to work in for the rest of her life. She knew that one day there would be an opportunity to make a shift in her career and kept the faith that she would know her next move when it presented itself. However, the crossroads she was looking for didn’t appear as she expected it to. It came as her dad’s illness was nearing it’s end. And unlike the typical entrepreneur story of starting a business to be your own boss or to be in charge of your own destiny, Liz realized that she didn’t want to have any regrets about her life. Her dad’s illness had hit her with the awareness that you never know what could happen in your life. It was a very acute feeling that made her recognize that she needed to make sure she did the things she had always wanted to, even if it meant taking a risk. Being a Texan, the lack of breakfast tacos was the first thing she noticed when she moved to New York and it was something she thought was glaringly missing from the food scene. And because her dad was the first one to push her to open a breakfast taco stand (Times Square was his location of choice), she decided to try and fill the gap that she saw. It wasn’t the opportunity she had been envisioning for herself but she had been waiting for the right moment for so long that she knew she had to seize it. So she took stock of her life- she was financially secure, had years of business knowledge, had the product and the passion for it and had a stable partner (her husband) who could support her, both emotionally and financially, in this venture. So she started a breakfast taco company as an homage to her dad, David, and to make an impact on other people’s lives by bringing them the joy of breakfast tacos.
Liz says that she’s not special in that she noticed the breakfast taco hole in the New York food industry, she’s just special in that she was crazy enough to act on it. And once she was committed to the idea, she jump into the food industry “head first”. She formed the LLC in December 2015 and by January 2016 she had taken her food safety course, was learning the rules and regulations of food production in New York and had started searching for a tortilleria and a kitchen for production. By April 2016 she was finishing up her recipe testing and had found a shared kitchen space to rent. In May she put everything on hold to prepare for her wedding in June, got married, came back from a “mini”-moon and did her first two trial runs of production at her husband’s company and at her sister’s company. During the trial runs she realized that she was going to need employees so she started hiring at the end of June/beginning of July and officially launched in July with two tacos and one salsa. She started doing catering orders with contacts she had made through networking and business was slowly coming in through word of mouth. But things really took off thanks to an article in New York Magazine, written by Sierra Tishgart, which profiled Liz and King David Tacos because they were the only breakfast taco company in the city. The article got them off the ground but they were still only offering catering and requiring that customers order a minimum of 100 tacos because Liz was bootstrapping the business herself and that was the only way they were able to break even. However, she realized that they couldn’t expect every client to do catering and 100 tacos wasn’t a sustainable way to make people order. Their catering base was growing but they needed guaranteed business that catering didn’t provide and a way to get tacos directly to the client.
After doing catering for a year, King David Tacos opened their first breakfast taco cart in Prospect Park in September 2017, which was quickly followed by their second breakfast taco cart on Wall Street in November 2017. The mobile carts gave them a retail presence and the stability they needed for consistent production, which allowed Liz to maintain a full-time staff and get enough revenue to pay rent and lock down their own space in the shared kitchen they were working out of. It also allowed them to establish better processes (the consistent business gave them the time and money to improve their systems) and introduce new products, expanding to four tacos and two salsas. However, the food carts also introduced Liz to a whole other world of rules and regulations that are tied to mobile vending. They had to respond to RFPs (request for proposals) for the locations where their carts are parked and win them in order to get a restricted permit with the New York City Department of Parks. The restricted permit guarantees that no one else can be in their spot but it’s a contract for only a certain number of years. So once the contract is up, they’ll have to win the RFP again. Luckily, both carts do very well, with 75-80% of the business being returning customers, which is exactly what Liz designed the product for. She felt that other breakfast taco companies failed in the past because they tried to recreate Austin or didn’t tailor the product to New York’s needs. She recognized that in order to bring breakfast tacos to New York, they needed to be a convenient item that people could “grab-n-go” on their way to work. She knew that she wasn’t going to convince New Yorkers to make the choice to buy a breakfast taco if they had to go out of their way to get them. Therefore, the strategy behind every decision they’ve made as a brand is to put themselves in people’s routines. The mobile carts allow them to literally get in the customer’s walkway and makes the purchasing process more efficient for the consumer.
Liz also realized that tailoring her breakfast tacos to New York meant understanding how New Yorkers eat. She’s proud of her Texas roots but knew that trying to make Texas and it’s eating habits the focal point of the business wouldn’t work in New York. New Yorkers love to indulge but overall are more health conscious, so she needed to create something that had good, healthy ingredients but was filling enough that you could eat one or two and feel satisfied. So she created the prototype for the tacos to be 1 egg, 1 piece of bacon, 4-5 cubes of potatoes and a little bit of cheese. This breakdown changes based on the type of taco and it’s ingredients but keeps the same main ratio of portioning. She felt like this was a meal that was easy to get on your commute, easy to take into the office and was solid enough to get you through the morning. Unlike a bagel or pastry that’s all sugar and carbs and makes you feel guilty after you eat it, her tacos are a good middle ground of healthy and indulgent, where you don’t feel like you’re limiting yourself to the “typical healthy food” of yogurt or a smoothie. When thinking about her breakfast tacos, Liz wants customers to say that they’re the best breakfast tacos outside of Texas but also wants them to recognize that this is something they can eat every day. She believes that fad diets are fading out and that more and more people are realizing that whole foods are good for you and moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle. She wants people to see her breakfast tacos as a part of that lifestyle because not only are they a delicious, wholesome breakfast, they’re a unique option that people can easily incorporate into their breakfast routine.
For Liz the most rewarding part of the business is the personal connection she forms with customers, since her business began from such a personal mission. The best part is interacting with customers at their mobile carts, seeing them buy the tacos, eat them and tell her how much they love them. She loves being able to hear their feedback and figure out ways that they can improve what they’re doing. She recently was at their Prospect Park cart and a couple that comes with their kids every weekend told her that their kids go home and play “taco cart”, which really stuck with her. The impact that her business is able to have on other people’s lives is really what she does it for and it makes her feel like she’s been woven into their life in a small way. But as the business owner, the more successful they are and the deeper she gets into the business, the less and less she’s at the carts, which is tough for her. She likes to be hands-on with everything so she channels that into her employees, who are interacting with customers on a daily basis. She tries to instill empathy for employees in the other areas of the business into all of her team members to make them understand how every part of the operation effects each other and to create a system of mutual respect across all levels.
As most business owners in the food industry know, working in food is a very thank-less job, so it’s hard to find people who are committed to the business. When they don’t show up for you or for your other employees, it’s hard not to take it personally in a small business. But as a female business owner, Liz says she’s learned to toughen up over the last few years and get more comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. In the past she might’ve shied away from confrontation but she’s learned that it’s okay to be more assertive when the situation calls for it. She believes that as a female entrepreneur you have to set firm standards of how the business is going to be run and use your power when necessary to make sure that these standards are being upheld, or else people will take advantage of you. Although that’s not how she’s been “trained” to handle things as a woman, she’s grown used to this space outside her comfort zone and likes challenging herself to get used to operating there. She’s very sensitive to the female inequality in the food industry and advocates that other female founders work to find their voice, even when it’s uncomfortable. For Liz, it’s constantly about finding the right balance of care and assertiveness but making sure your underlying tone is one of respect. Without respect, for your employees, your customers, your partners and for yourself, your business will never create the impact that you hope to achieve.
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